Part 1, which covered July 2021 -November 2021 ran a few days ago… now the other half of the year of eligible shows…
The Book of Boba Fett
Pen15, Season 3
Cobra Kai 4 (didn’t/don’t watch it)
Emily in Paris (didn’t/don’t watch it)
Landscapers (didn’t/don’t watch it)
Station Eleven (didn’t/don’t watch it)
Abbott Elementary is a good show. I don’t think isn’t Modern Family or The Office good yet, but I suspect it may get there next season. Quinta Brunson is obviously going to be with us for a long, long time.
The Book of Boba Fett is half just okay and half a special half season of The Mandolorian, which is much better. I actually liked the murky, quiet world of the first half of the season. But I admit, I like The Mandolorian better. Apparently, Disney did too.
Pen15, Season 3 is also known as Season 2, Part 2. I assume the animated episode, which dropped on its own before the rest of Season 3 counts as part of that season. Greatness. The show comes to what I think was a logical conclusion… the girls are becoming young women… at which point, the idea of adult women playing young girls gets a little creepier, as sex and such goes from a discussion to a part of daily life. Chatting with Anna Konkle, the idea of revisiting Anna and Maya in their 20s, then 30s, and so forth might actually happen. Yes, please. Fascinating show, every season.
1883 is terrific. As Emmy bait, better than Yellowstone, because Yellowstone is more of a nighttime soap… really good one, but that. However… Sam Elliott got simplified and damaged by his take on The Power of the Dog and this entire show, which should have been able to expect more than 6 Emmy nods, may go begging. Isabel May is really the center of the series, though Elliott, McGraw, and Hill are exellent. So is LaMonica Garrett. But it’s Isabel May’s show… she is the center… which I didn’t think would be the case after the first episodes. But then, Taylor Sheridan leaned into the blonde boy bait who rides and battles like a guy. For me, this became a weakness in a very good show. Not that she wasn’t great. But the inevitably tragic poetic diary of a young woman gets to be as simplistic as the description sounds after a while. Still, loved Sam, loved the rest of the cast, pleased to take the journey with them every week.
After Life 3
Single Drunk Female
Snowpiercer (didn’t/don’t watch it)
This Is Us (didn’t/don’t watch it)
The Gilded Age (didn’t/don’t watch it)
RuPaul’s Drag Race
We Need To Talk About Cosby
After Life 3 brings the Ricky Gervais series to a conclusion. Well written, funny, and surprisingly well-acted by Gervais, the show is a pleasure… no guilt.
The Afterparty is the Christopher Miller series on AppleTV+ that brings together the cool comedy kids of this generation, plus Tiffany Haddish and Will Forte as Will Forte in a murder mystery distinguished as a Rashômon of both story and style. Will this flavor of comedy connect with the over-50 set? Probably not. But the under-50s who like it, LOVE it.
Billions is one of those shows… 5 terrific seasons before this 6th competing season… actors who have been nominated for Oscar and Emmys in the past… top level writing… and ZERO Emmy nominations. Sometimes, when you don’t get nominated right out of the box, people just don’t jump on board. This season, they added Cory Stoll and worked through the intersection of money and politics more broadly than in the past. Will anyone notice. They should… but…
Black-ish became, by the end, the sole survivor of the last generation of sitcoms. And it was worthy. It was fearless, edgy, funny, mean… a really modern sitcom. Some in the PC camp have claimed it was unable to soar because it was working the middle about Black America’s upper middle class. Unfair, in my opinion. It’s been nominated before. We’ll see what happens here.
Euphoria is a roller coaster of a series. This season was underwhelming… until the last 4 episodes, which were some of the best television of the year, right up there with I May Destroy You. Rue on the run and the school play epsiodes, in particular, are the kind of work that will considered and imitated for decades to come. Truly extraordinary. Zendaya is a superstar and her work in that one episode, in particular, is way, way above the rim.
Ozark tied to find an end. Not sure they did, at least not for the locals who survived the season. Really good. Not complaining. I did hate the season being split. It felt fully purposeless and broke the hypnotic experience. But everyone was still great. Julia Garner and Laura Linney are the super-engines of the show, with Jason Bateman generously (and excellently) playing the straight man. Love Felix Solis on the show and the brutal Lisa Emery.
Peacemaker is madness. Heavy on boy jokes and splatter. Danielle Brooks and Steve Agee are more fun than the pro heroes for me. Cena has become a crafty actor. Hard to argue with a CG bald eagle as a regular. The fights are one of a kind. I can’t say I would be able to recommend it to more than 25% of the people I know. But I like a good comic book in the real world show. And this is that… however childish at time.
Somebody Somewhere is Bridget Everett unplugged. There are few performers who are as naturally charming as Bridget. She’s not writing or directing. But showrunners Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen and directors Jay Duplass and Robert Cohen clearly get her in a deep and gentle way. And there you are. Bridget and her TV pal, Jeff Hiller, are just going through simple, complex, very human lives. The show makes you wish they were sitting on the couch with you, watching.
Single Drunk Female is a show that I really didn’t expect to be watching. It came up on the TV offerings a few times. I had never seen Sofia Black-D'Elia knowingly in my life. (Turns out she was “the victim” on The Night Of and that was a very different, but also mighty performance.) I think it was when I realized that Ally Sheedy was on it that I chose to check it out. And it got me instantly. It was one of those shows I didn‘t know I needed to see, but did. Sam is the girl trying to stay sober after rehab which came after a wild youthful career with the bottle. She kept her personality. And the world is pushing her back to the bottle every day. Her mom, played by Ally, is indescribable and utterly real. Her best friend is still a wild one, but she can live with it. Sam can’t. The show is funny… and dead smart. Simone Finch, well done.
What can I say about The Gilded Age, Snowpiercer, and This Is Us? I love (seriously, adore) everyone on The Gilded Age and the buzz just pushed me out of watching it. Snowpiercer is a beloved movie… and I used to work for TNT… but just never got started and then it was Season 2 and… never watched. And I did a season of This is Us to interview Mandy Moore. She was delightful, but I would rather lose a finger than watch the series again. I know it’s beloved. I understand. Not for me.
RuPaul’s Drag Race is a joy. I never know when it’s begun or when it is going to end. They do a terrible job promting it for those of us who are not of the hardcore. But I went back into Par+ to watch multiple seasons from before my first deep dive… because it’s fun. The drag of it all is pleasant, but it’s the human emotion that drives the train. I admit, I feel a lag about 3/4 of the way through any season, as the characters become a little too well defined to surprise. But I still want to know who wins. Probably the competition show I have watched most consistently in the last 5 years.
We Need To Talk About Cosby is just one of the greatest documentaries ever. W. Kamau Bell is not the filmmaking magician that some of the other doc filmmakers are. But he took on this subject, at this time, and made a nearly perfect film. What else can I tell you? Bell manages to take a very uncomfortable subject and make it crystal clear, never stooping to insults or questions that should not have been asked. He is not afraid to offer us what was so great about Bill Cosby. And he is not afraid to explain what is so deeply horrifying about Bill Cosby. On top of that, he allows us into the discussion within black culture about their once-Mt-Rushmore-level hero in a way that listens deeply and doesn’t aggressively discount anyone’s position. A masterpiece.
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel
Pam & Tommy
Better Things is the finest half-hour series of the last 5 years. I am going to write an entire newsletter on its genius soon. But Pamela Adlon started at a high level and then took the series to another place as she took over directing every episode since the start of Season 2. Like the show’s strongest competition for Best-in-30-Minute-Show, Atlanta, every episode is like an Altman-esque short story, the story of a grown woman raising her kids on her own, caring for her mother, and trying to keep herself engaged by the world as she does it. Once you know the basic players, you can go to any episode in any season and start “reading” that story. Then any other one. They are literature.
Could Killing Eve stick the landing? That was the question of the season for me. The actors have their characters down. We know their world by now. I could have simplified the season a bit, but the dive into the past that became The 12 was interesting and has some nice kills. An Emmy kiss goodbye wouldn’t bother me… but just as likely the voters decide to move on… there are so many great shows now.
The Marvelous Mrs Maisel is another tale of 2 half-seasons. The first 4, aka The Strip Club Half, had some really nice things… but it felt like the show had lost its way. But in Episode 5, Midge, Susie, and Sophie Lennon get their edge back. By the season close, we get the best moment of the series with Midge and Lenny Bruce.
Severance is very interesting. It’s one of the shows that just isn’t to my taste. The performances are excellent and I felt the intelligence, but I just felt myself waiting for things to happen. I’ll probably take another run at it this summer.
Inventing Anna is very, very good. It just isn’t as good as The Dropout. Tough. Perhaps the difference is that Inventing Anna is more grounded in reality. Dropout finds metaphor. Anna is really a good story really nicely told. Highly recommend. Just not top dog.
Pam & Tommy is glorious madness. What is real? What is fairy dust? I don’t know. I don’t care. Seth Rogen is better than he has ever been. Lily James and Sebastian Stan are so great at becoming their characters that I don’t think many appreciate just how great they are in the series. The make-up work is amazing. And while people won’t remember it this way, one of the genius choices here is that there is almost no nudity from Pam or Tommy in the series outside of the 2nd episode… which is wildly naked - supercharged by in-camera effects - and hysterically profane, as best defined by the talking penis with which Tommy has as serious a conversation as he is capable. The series is at least 90 minutes too long and the Pam as Victim theme gets a bit overplayed… not because it’s not true, but by repetition.
Super Pumped was another really good series about a really problematic rich person. At least he’s not blonde. Joseph Gordon Levitt got it right. Kyle Chandler got it right. Uma Thurman and Elizabeth Shue brought it. The question isn’t really about the quality of these shows, so much as how the story plays against our real life perception. There is no reason to put this series to the side. What kind of crazy, as played by a familiar actor, makes the audience giddiest? I looked forward to every episode of this series, feeling like I knew the outsider story and that I enjoyed seeing the chess game, however mad, that I didn’t know.
Our Flag Means Death
Joe vs Carole
Bridgerton (didn’t/don’t watch it)
Pachinko (didn’t/don’t watch it)
Julia is the new masterpiece of 30-minute storytelling this season. Conventional in a way that Better Things and Atlanta are not, but somehow magical in its own singular way. I really can’t come up with a comp… except Child in real life. There is nothing that makes sense about this show working so well… but it does, consistently. The heart of it is Sarah Lancashire. Her Julia is alive in a way that you rarely see in a sitcom… like she is never reading a line of dialogue ever. Anything could come out… and it would charm us and embrace us. Great supporting cast, including standout work by Hyde-Pierce, Neuwirth, Joy, and especially Brittany Bradford. Bradford has the complicated task of playing a non-real character based, in part, on real Child producer Ruth Lockwood, who was white. She is a symbol of the era… and she has to play the role as though she really is not. I have not spoken to anyone who didn’t love the show and on Rotten Tomatoes, there are only 3 rotten tomatoes, 2 from Ireland, and one here in the U.S. This is a show that should shock with 6 or more Emmy nominations… but who knows? Ms. Lancashire hasn’t been available for interviews or promotion and that is often a blockade from noms. A little more butter would help.
Minx is another HBO Max show that comes from our distant past. The complexity of this one is not Julia-like, but it’s also not what you might expect from the log line. Lots of nudity and dirty talk, but no one is exactly who they seem. Joyce, played by Ophelia Lovibond (that name!), wants to make a feminist manifesto. Jake Johnson’s Doug wants to make a buck… but somewhere underneath his raw ambition, he wants to be more than a low-end pornographer. There is no question that this is a comedy… but it more than scratches the surface in considering bigger ideas.
Our Flag Means Death is Pythonesque. And that’s okay. It’s also Taika-esque. The show was created and show-run by David Jenkins, whose prior show, People of Earth, was backed by the The Office crew and Conan O’Brien. This time, he is running with a crowd of accented funnies. A show for a taste to whom it is instantly legendary.
Winning Time makes me crazy, in that I hate the visual style meant to throw back to the 70s. It doesn’t look like it looked back then. And it is distracting as hell. On the other hand, the story is compelling, the actors do a great job - John C. Reilly’s career best work - and after the early episodes that seem overly high-strung, the show finds its best pace after the team starts to come together and play.
I didn’t watch a single moment of the 2nd season of Bridgerton after watching the entire 1st season. Not my show. I see how others love it. Meh. And Pachinko showed up on the AppleTV+ app unannounced and seemed like something of potential wonders… yet, I just never got started.
The Dropout is a one-woman tour de force. Great writing. Nicely directed. But just as in real life, it is watching Elizabeth Holmes that melts your brain. Amanda Seyfried takes this one by the throat and is absolutely unforgettable. Many good performances. None are to the singular level of hers.
Joe vs Carole is underappreciated because of the Netflix doc series that came before. But John Cameron Mitchell kills it as Joe and Kate McKinnon becomes Carole, 100%. Also amazing here is Kyle MacLachlan, as Carole’s enabler husband. The question of whether this could have been 6 episodes instead of 8 is legitimate. It’s like eating candy… too much can be too much. But it’s a ton of fun a lot of the time. And as obnoxious as both of these characters are, they found a way for the audience to sympathize quite a bit.
We Crashed is yet another one of these Unicorn Founder limited series. Like many, it feels overpowered by its actors at first. But as the show goes along, both Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway have the opportunity to find deeper truths and not caricatures… even if I wanted to strangle them both most of the time. The writing feels truthful. The mania they created seems close to reality. The vanity of the wealthy is a feature, as it is in many of the shows. My favorite character was O-T Fagbenle’s Cameron Lautner, another composite character on one of these shows. He’s crabby, but he is also the one who speaks for sanity, as the audience might see it. Very, very good.
I Love That For You
The First Lady
Under The Banner of Heaven
We Own This City
Better Call Saul (didn’t/don’t watch it)
The Man Who Fell From Earth (didn’t/don’t watch it)
Slow Horses (didn’t/don’t watch it)
Swimming with Sharks (didn’t/don’t watch it)
Tokyo Vice (didn’t/don’t watch it)
As we got late into the Emmy qualification season, I watched an awful lot of TV… but a lot of it was good junk. We’ll see how much of the quality I can catch up with during the summer.
I Love That For You seems like it is going to be all-quirk and whim. But like Addy Bryant’s Shrill, it reaches beyond. We’ve seen Vanessa Bayer and Molly Shannon do these characters before… but not in the depth that this show creates. Shannon is the home shopping star who is feeling uninspired. Bayer is the newcomer, building a fast audience through a kinda-lie. The secret sauce of the show, for me, is Jenifer Lewis, as The Boss. (Again, similar to Shrill and John Cameron Mitchell… with another showhorse in Patti Harrison). Lewis’s boss character starts off just being brutal, but deepens and deepens through the season, as do the leads. Jeremy Beiler and Vanessa Bayer seem to be the showrunners. This is a very difficult tone to hit... and the central players, more than the side characters, manage to hit it on the bullseye.
Outer Range, though not in existence because of Yellowstone, takes those Yellowstone expectations and turns them upside down. It’s not David Lynch, but it is a similarly freaky twist. I’m not going to try to spoil it here. But Josh Brolin as the patriarch who knows things we don’t… Imogen Poots as the hippie chick who likes to camp out but isn’t that at all… Will Patton as the “bad guy” who needs something before he dies… and Lili Taylor as the salt of the earth. What the hell is going on? Well, you will find out some stuff in 8 episodes, but probably not enough that you won’t have to watch the next season if you really want to know. Lots of very interesting things set up… and then, the season ends.
The Outlaws is a Brit lark. Seven very different people stuck together doing community service. Everyone is trying to just get it over with. But they also all have complex backstories. When the opportunity to get into some trouble presents itself arrives, what with they do? (You know. Trouble.) But trouble that seems simple very rarely is. The joy of the show is the characters and the actors’ work here. Co-created and run by Elgin James, the director who had the popular Sundance hit Little Birds, was getting serious Hollywood attention, and soon after went to jail for a year for an incident 4 years earlier. Great guy in my experience with him. His work shows a gentle touch in harsh situations. A wonderful ensemble, with Christopher Walken and Stephen Merchant and a group of actors you probably have never seen, but are unlikely to forget.
The First Lady is an interesting series… apparently running as Limited… but I expect at least a few more season. Three First Ladies, each speaking to a specific idea (roughly) with each weekly episode. Eleanor Roosevelt to Betty Ford to Michelle Obama. They seemingly couldn’t be more different. But Cathy Schulman and Aaron Cooley and the unusually hands-on acting all-stars figured it out. It really is a format that balances between the Firsts, ebbing and flowing with each episode.
The Offer is the story of the making of The Godfather through the eyes of producer Al Ruddy. I don’t know how people who have no industry knowledge experience the show. For those of us who have direct knowledge of the players, it has to be different. For instance, the great single performance of the show is the Matthew Goode performance as Bob Evans… but it makes me insane, no matter how much I am impressed, because Goode is 6 inches taller than Evans. For me, those 6 inches are a huge piece of the character, no matter how well performed. Likewise, Coppola is 5’ 6” on the show and not 6’ 1” like in real life. Dan Fogler does nice work… but he isn’t Francis for me. Al Ruddy is the right height and Miles Teller brings him off perfectly. The show also obsesses on the Ruddy relationship with Joe Columbo, which is not unimportant, but isn’t as interesting as the filmmaking politics for me. Love Burn Gorman as Charlie Bludhorn… one of those characters about whom many stories were told, but who was in and out of Hollywood pretty quickly. Eight years… followed by Barry Diller, who was actually in the industry. Diller moved on after 10 years… but he stayed in the film/tv business. Bludhorn focused most of his attention on the Dominican Republic after G&W sold Paramount… died at 56 in 1983. Anyway… many things to recommend about the show… some big distractions.
Under The Banner of Heaven is based on the Jon Krakauer book, which travels a path that inspired multiple documentaries already. Dustin Lance Black was the showrunner and like other real-life series this year, he made up a major character, in this case, the lead. It is one of those choices that both illuminates and complicates. Performances are pretty great, all around. It’s dark material and so… is it the kind of watch that Emmy voters are going to embrace? Not clear. See it and see the docs and make up your own minds.
We Own This City is the latest from the Baltimorian David Simon and Washingtonian George Pelecanos. It’s old fashioned in a way, in that it simply tells the true story of what happened in Baltimore in 2015 in the wake of the Freddie Gray case. The Gun Trace Task Force, under the leadership of Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, becomes the most effective police unit in doing the job they have been given. But they aren’t just doing their jobs. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. This plays against the background of the city’s politician, trying to find answers in a period when murder and crime was overrunning much of the city. The ensemble is led by John Bernthal as Jenkins, whose crew includes Josh Charles. On one of the two other sides is Wunmi Mosaku, as the one trying to figure out what the truth is. And the city is represented by a range of actors playing a range of jobs in the Baltimore government. Classic drama. Absolute realism. Great performances. You want a happy ending? Look elsewhere.
Conversations With Friends
Night Sky (didn’t/don’t watch it)
Kids in the Hall
The last wave of Emmy-eligible content in May turned out not to be as heavy as it seemed.
Conversations With Friends is the new limited series from the lovely and talented Lenny Abrahamson, after the movie Room and the streaming sensation, Normal People. He goes from a Sally Rooney 2-hander to a 4-hander here. The show is the journey, so there is no point in getting into too much detail, but 20something Frances and Bobbi are an occasional romantic couple and come into the orbit of Nick and Melissa. Life gets complicated. Abrahamson is not the only director on the show, but he sets the tone with his 7 episodes… and that tone is intimate and languorous (in a good way). The 4 actors shine in this space.
Hacks is still really good. But… the first half isn’t quite as good as the second half of this season. Like the lead character, the show seems to be struggling. And there are controversies. I think Laurie Metcalfe was epic in her guest turn on the show. Others seem to see it as same old same old or worse. (shrug) As Deborah and Ava get their feet under them, so does the show. The show worked to spread itself around with the supporting characters this season, to varying degrees of success. Love Kayla… just not so much Kayla. Bumpy season, but still a pleasure.
The Staircase is a limited series. Like Under The Banner of Heaven, we have books and documentaries to look at on the story. The actors are compelling. The story is compelling. But did we need 8 full episodes to end up where the series starts, not knowing? I watched every episode. I didn’t want my money back. It’s a really well made, well-acted show. But it did have a bit of a problem with characters who were highly emotional. They almost all seemed like they were overacting, even though the script did this too them, not the performances. Limited Series may be the most densely competitive category this season because there are so many good shows that are all very similar in a lot of ways. It is going to be interesting.
I loved the return of Kids in the Hall… and I was not a huge Kids fan back in the day. I liked them. Not a love affair. But this 8 episodes is grounded in the age of these comic actors. They don’t fight it. It limits them. But in all good ways. I think it brought out the best in them. As individuals, the group is, obviously, massively talented. But together, they are something else altogether. The best of the Variety Sketch category this year… by some distance.
Tremendous work, David. I particularly loved the way you wrote about The Dropout and WeCrashed.
And I'm sure you've heard this before, but you MUST watch Station Eleven... it's just staggeringly great. It sort of reminded me of HBO's Watchmen where all the separate narratives end up fitting in place just so, not in a cold, calculating, meticulous way - but in an emotionally overwhelming "how did they come up with this?" sort of way.
Just read part 2. Great! A lot to digest. Will reread it tonight.